The thermometer in my car read -3 degrees. The snow fell relentlessly as I curled up in my driver seat, praying that my heater would miraculously spring back to life to warm bones that reflected the outside temperature. I shivered knowing that I shouldn’t, my body had no sugars to process for heat. Hours ago, the sun had already made its way over the pass with ease. Something that, in the moment preceding hypothermia, my car and I envied. If I could just make it over the pass and get moving, heat would slowly pour through the vents and save my life. That was only a wish. I covered myself with a slew of winter gear and waited for the sun to make its way over the pass yet again to warm not only the road, but my slowly fading body heat.
Years ago, while running a guitar shop in Las Cruces, a very warm day brought on a cold revelation. Sitting outside I watched a truck barreling down the road driving at a speed around 70mph in a 35mph zone. Before I could contemplate what a terrible and careless driver this man was, I heard something that sounded like an explosion. I ran to the sound and aid of someone that I had never known. When I had arrived, it was too late and the speeding driver opened his door to find the man who I never knew lying in his own back seat, passing into another world. The man was probably on his way somewhere, never thinking the place he was headed would no longer involve a car. The driver sat on a curb waiting for judgement to be passed upon him as well. I turned and walked away after a short statement. It was in that moment I realized no matter how safe you think you are, your card can be pulled in an instant at any given time.
The thermometer read -12 and inside my car was not much warmer. I rubbed my hands together to generate heat for my slowly numbing fingertips. Out of nowhere, I felt an audible chuckle become an uproar of laughter. The movement helped and the laugh originated from the thought of the previous day. The thought of laughter with my friend on the Frying Pan River and my freezing fingertips that day. In fact, the whole trip and the reason I was stranded here in the snow was due to wanting to test a new fly on a river filled with extremely picky fish. John suggested that we fish the Colorado that morning because he had left his waders in another state, in another car. I somehow talked him into fishing the Pan without the use of waders. While we stood on the banks of the river, fish flew out of the water and we cursed each fish for the taunting. It took a while for us to get into the swing of the river again. For John, it had been three months since he wet his line. For me, I had been fishing the Arkansas tailwater too much. As we changed flies, we picked up the occasional fish, but nothing seemed to work until John switched to a dry, and I to a streamer. The two dumbest flies we could have ever chosen. A “Chewbacca Bugger” and a Parachute Adams were our flies of choice and neither of us expected what was about to happen. Laughter exploded from the walls of the canyon as we began catching fish that we never thought we would catch on flies we never thought would work, on a snowy February afternoon.
That night, John and I ate dinner joking about the waitress the evening before and “Seasoned Fries” that were ordinary fries coated in black pepper.When John asked, she called them “Regular Seasoned Fries” and our confusion as to whether or not they were seasoned or regular was quelled. The food packed my stomach full. As John and I departed, I sat in my car. The last thing I wanted was to drive home in the snow. I threw on my winter gear and drove away unknowingly into a storm. By the time I had pulled out of Glenwood Canyon, I was already worried and running low on gasoline as well as funds in my bank account. The snow began to collect on the road and my car slid aimlessly down the highway, in chaotic control with a white-knuckled driver behind the wheel. Through the town of Eagle, the snow began worsen. My foggy headlights barely piercing the veil of white that fell before me. Vail pass was next, but before I reached the city of Vail, my car nearly spun out of control. Driving time was over and the only thing possible for me to do was wait in a Safeway (ironic, right?) parking lot. As the hours ticked away and my body temperature dropped, the thought of the previous day eventually put me to sleep.
4:00am -17 degrees… I woke up from the cold with a gasp and subsequent cough. Unable to feel my lips and finding it difficult to move, I got out of my car and walked a lap. With feeling once again in my extremities, I had to move. I had to drive. Leaving the Safeway parking lot was difficult, knowing that I might be stranded on the side of the road rather than a parking lot where I could call for help. Even the snow on the road made it tough. With only a couple of hours of sleep, I found myself spinning my tires up the onramp. Inching closer and closer to my destination, I rocked back and forth trying to push my car up the hill. Movement meant heat. As my car skittered onto the icy highway, I heard a familiar sound. A sound I had not heard in over a month. My heater had kicked on! I turned all of the dials to the hottest possible settings. Slowly, the cab warmed to a temperature capable of baking bread. I basked in its heat and breathed a sigh of relief. It was not my time… yet. With a little bit of determination and a lot of luck, I made it over the pass and down into the town of Silverthorne. At 5am, I knew of a place to sleep until it was warm enough to fish. I did just that.
This new day was never supposed to happen. I should have been dead, or at the very least, at work. This day was a new one, the day after I didn’t die. As I cleaned my waders, I thought about the man I had never known. I wondered if he had passed on a day that he truly enjoyed, that was full of love and fulfillment. While fishing that day, I asked the same to myself. The answer was a resounding, “No”. My love is the river, and my heart belongs there, I was born to die on it. With the fresh thought of death in my mind, I realized that the only value of life is to find your fulfillment. The only way to accomplish fulfillment is to chase your dreams. The following day at work, I wrote a letter of resignation.